Rising temperatures, melting glaciers: Copenhagen and our planet’s salvation

Expectations are high despite the fact that or maybe because negotiators have been unable to prepare a common proposal for an agreement: The hundreds of pages of negotiating text contain all the — at times contradictory — proposals put forward by countries over the last year. The Gordian knot seems unparalleled in its complexity, maybe with the exception of the 8-year-old Doha Round negotiations.

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In recent years, climate change has made it to the top of the international agenda. Growing evidence around the globe points to its already-occurring impacts. We are all vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. While people in developing countries are the hardest hit by an increased incidence of droughts, flooding and tropical storms, the effects of climate change are also felt in countries such as Switzerland: There is a risk of more frequent extreme weather events such as flooding or heat waves. Snowfall will become increasingly rare at lower altitudes. Scientists have warned that the Swiss Alps will no longer be covered by ice at the end of the century if glaciers continue to melt at the current rate. Seasonal variation in water availability will change and agricultural productivity will be impacted as well.

The Alps are particularly sensitive to climate change, and recent warming in the European Alpine region has been roughly twice the global average. Thus it may come as no surprise that — with regard to climate change — Switzerland pursues a very active role both at the national and international levels. In that regard:

Switzerland has ratified the Kyoto Protocol and will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percent by 2012 in comparison with 1990 levels.

Switzerland is in the process of revising its CO2 legislation: It plans a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by minus 20 percent by 2020, and that again in comparison with 1990 levels. If other countries engage in similar mitigation efforts, Switzerland is prepared to raise its reduction target to minus 30 percent.

Switzerland pursues an equally active role at the international climate negotiations, extending its offer to act beyond mitigation, including adaptation, technology transfer and financial support of developing countries.

We are all aware that climate change and its negative impacts constitute a global problem. The actions of any one country do not suffice in bringing about a solution. While Switzerland is prepared to contribute its share, although it is relatively small in absolute terms given its surface area and aggregate greenhouse gas emissions, the international community depends on the active participation of all countries. That is why Switzerland greatly welcomes the importance the new administration and the United States Congress has recently attached to the problem. An active role by the United States, both at the national and the international levels, bodes well for decisively tackling the problem of climate change.

Science tells us that we have to limit the rise in global temperatures to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius with regard to historical levels or else we risk major and irrevocable damage to society and ecosystems on a regional and global scale. Meeting this global challenge will strengthen ties across the globe and benefit our collaboration extending to areas beyond the realm of environmental protection.

Copenhagen may not be the last step on our shared path to a new and equitable global climate regime, but it is a very important step and Switzerland looks forward to making that step with our close partner, the United States, in particular, and the entire international community.

Ziswiler is ambassador of Switzerland to the United States.